Why did the Founders not simply say “born citizen”?
Attorney Mario Apuzzo dropped by and left a question for me, challenging my assertion that “natural born citizen” just means “born a citizen”. He asked: Why did the Founders not simply say “born citizen”?
There are two parts to the answer. The immediate reason, I believe, is that “natural born citizen” is intentionally a reference to the common law term “natural born subject” that appears in British common law and all throughout the colonial laws and charters, substituting “citizen” for the inappropriate “subject”. “Subject” even appears in post Revolution state laws. The substitutability of “citizen” for “subject” was asserted by the Supreme Court in its discussion of US v Wong. Justice Gaston said, in State v. Manuel, 4 Devereaux & Battle 25-26 (N.C., 1838):
The term “citizen” as understood in our law, is precisely analogous to the term subject in common law, and the change of phrase has entirely resulted from the change of government.
The question then becomes: why did British law use “natural born subject” instead of just “born subject”? I think the answer lies in the nature of British naturalization. Eighteenth century naturalization in Britain made an alien not only a subject, but it made them a subject from their birth. Natural born citizens and naturalized citizens are both citizens from birth under English law!
British naturalization acted retroactively; however, certain privileges were withheld from these naturalized citizens from birth. This is why British law makes the distinction between natural born citizens and naturalized citizens (those who were born as citizens and those who were made citizens from birth by act of Parliament). Natural born means that one was a citizen when they were born, as opposed to the legal fiction of being a citizen from birth through naturalization.
This of course poses a problem for any potential US presidential candidate who was made a citizen from birth by US law acting retroactively.